Wednesday, August 24, 2011

UnPaper towels

Unpaper towels are a cloth alternative to paper towels. But do they really do as good of a job? Are they really better for the environment? Can they really save you money?
Paper towels have been around since 1931. And one of the main impacts they have on the environment is that they have to be disposed of, after just one use. Yes, there are many ‘more absorbent’ paper towels that make it so you can use less sheets to clean up a mess, but you are still posed with the problem of having to throw them away after each use. Yes, there are brands that use a significant amount of recycled paper to make them, but you are again stuck having to throw them in the garbage.
It is easy to grab a towel to dry wet hands, clean up a messy counter and even as a napkin at dinner. But how many towels does this add up to? Let’s calculate the amount of paper towels that the average household uses in one year. An average household uses approximately 4 rolls of paper towels in a week. That ends up being 208 rolls of paper towels in a year, or approximately 17,472 paper towels (84 2ply paper towels per roll). This adds up quick, not only in trash but also in money spent from your family’s budget. An average 2-ply roll of paper towels is $1.95 per roll, this equals $405.60 spent on paper towels in a year. WOW, there are a lot of other things that I could use an extra $400 for! It adds up quick if you multiply this across the country. It is estimated that over 2.5 million paper towels, or 29,762 rolls, or $58,036 worth of paper towels are thrown into our landfills in just one year!
Paper towels not only affect our budget and our landfills, but there are also manufacturing processes that make them hard on the environment. Most paper towels are made from paper pulp, which is extracted from wood or other fibrous crops. They are often bleached which has a very harmful bi-product, dioxin, which is linked to birth defects and cancer.
There are some non-paper alternatives to paper towels that can be just as easy and sanitary to use. In many public restrooms, hand blow-dryers are present which are easy to use and efficient at reducing the amount of paper towels used. But it is not easy to have one of these installed by every sink in your home, and they obviously wouldn’t work to clean the counters. The easiest solution for at home is unpaper towels. They are made from many different fabrics: cotton flannel, Sherpa, terry and other fabrics are both absorbent and great at cleaning messes. With an unpaper towel you can often rinse it out and use it for multiple cleanings before having to throw it in the wash. They work great for all of your household cleaning jobs from counters, to windows and mirrors!
This is how we do it in our house. I have a stash of about 40 unpaper towels (toweleze) and a kitchen wetbag that we use to store the dirty ones in until wash day. I have them all stacked up in the kitchen drawer next to the sink. When you have a mess, you simply grab one out of the drawer and clean it up and depending on how big the mess is you can rinse it out and use it again and again. We also keep a small stack of them in the bathroom next to the sink for hand drying. I use my toweleze to clean the counters – and they really do a great job! I am able to clean the entire kitchen with just one towel! Much easier than the 10 or so paper towels it might take to do the same job. They are also great for washing the dishes – I prefer using ones that have a terry cloth on one side for this type of job as it adds some extra scrubbing power! I use them for many other jobs around the house: dusting, cleaning mirrors and windows, cleaning dirty faces and hands, even in the bath as a washcloth!
After my kitchen wetbag gets full, usually about 3-4 days of towels, I simply add them to my regular load of dirty towels for the week. So I am not even doing an ‘extra’ load of laundry! When they come out of the dryer, I just stack them up (no folding) and put them back in their drawer. It is as simple as that!
If each family made the switch to unpaper towels think of how many we could save from our landfills! Making the switch one family at a time does make a significant impact. If you decided today to start using unpaper towels, you could save yourself over $400 each year! And you would be taking out over 17,000 towels from the landfill.
- Kristin

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